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Tag Archives: 2011

Spotlight on Galway for Theatre Festival 2011

Galway Theatre Festival. Image by Paddy D'Arcy

The Irish theatre spotlight falls fully on the West this week as the Galway Theatre Festival has just kicked off. Already with an opening day with sell-out productions under its belt and with many more to follow, Barry Houlihan talks to Director of the Galway Theatre Festival, Ròisìn Stack to discuss the growth of the Festival and what the audience can expect from this festival feast.

Galway native Ròisìn Stack has been associated with the Festival since her days as a performer with Fregoli theatre group in the inaugural festival. Now, as Festival Director, Stack has, since she came on board in 2009, worked and overseen the expansion of the Galway Theatre Festival. The Galway Theatre Festival started in 2008 and featured four days back-to-back of shows in Nun’s Island. In the second year, the Festival expanded into the Town-Hall studio and produced a five day Festival run and has expanded every year since.

To get a festival of this size and variety moving and with momentum, the idea of a festival ‘by the people and for the people’ is very much key to the ethos and spirit of the Festival.

To read the full interview with Ròisìn Stack on writing.ie click here.

 
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Posted by on October 27, 2011 in Theatre

 

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Walking with Magdalens – “Laundry” at the Dublin Theatre Festival.

Laundry - Anu Productions

Laundry is the latest site-specific work from Anù Productions and features as part of this year’s Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival. Barry Houlihan witnessed this historic play that takes place behind the doors of Dublin’s Magdalen Laundry.

‘Sanctus’. The word is cast in elegant stained glass over a doorway that leads to the inner chapel of the Magdalen Laundry on Seam McDermott Street. The ‘Santcus’ is a song of praise to God and to his angels that in the order of the mass is sung  just prior to the consecration – the act of true faith in the mass. For the thousands of women who walked under this word every morning and evening of their lives spent in the Magdalen Laundry, it offered little respite or comfort.

Laundry is the latest work by Dublin based theatre company Anù Productions. Formed as recently as 2009, the company has quickly proven to be a phenomenon of Irish theatre; staging radically powerful works while specialising in site-specific areas.  While far from a being a ‘play’, this performance is testimony to the stolen childhoods and stolen lives of the ‘Maggies’ who were forced to endure life inside the walls.

To read this review in full from writing.ie please click here

 
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Posted by on October 6, 2011 in Culture, Theatre

 

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Mephisto’s Journey to “the Honey Spike”.

The Honey Spike

Here is a tale of Irish Roads, of a Tinker and his wife,

It’s a tale of trouble and wildness and a child that’s born to life,

There’s mating in it, birth and death and drink to flood a dyke,

So here’s how they raced the bloody road that lead to the Honey Spike

The review from the Evening Press of “Bryan MacMahon’s the Honey Spike, produced at the Abbey Theatre in 1961 reads: [The Play] has the essential quality of all good drama: vitality – life breathes through this play.” (23 May 1961)

While “The Honey Spike” is indeed a play singing the virtues of life and the fervent dedication of expecting young parents, it is also the fear of death and superstition which supersedes the anxious wait for new life.

A young Traveller couple, Martin and Breda Claffey have travelled the length and breadth of Ireland, on their own journey and adventure as newly-weds. From the cliffs aside the Giants Causeway, on the tip of Ireland’s East Coast, the pregnant Breda is nearing her ‘time’. Her baby is but days away from life. Driven by tradition and superstition and indeed also fear, Breda longs to abide by her mother’s wish, to have her baby at the ‘lucky’ spike – the Honey Spike – back in her home of Dunkerron in South Kerry.

This trek  to the lucky spike also allows for much soul-searching amongst the couple themselves, with touching scenes of genuine warmth and love by a campfire in the wilds of Ireland.  When crossing the Border region, MacMahon characterises this ‘lost world’ of an area without a true attachment of a people. It is a purgatorial space, belonging to no country but yet fought viciously over by those living on either side – the wounded IRA man seeking help identifies with the cause of the Claffeys, depicted as yet another who is seeking to find a true home. As Breda declares to the English soldiers, “What do we Travellers care about the IRA or if the country is in two or two thousand bits – shur isn’t every hand North or South up against us.”

The arduous journey brings the couple on an expedition through the heart and soul of Ireland. They must encounter a Border region “full of smugglers and IRA”, a lifeless midlands and perhaps most troublesome of all – the Puck Fair Festival in Kilorglin.

The symbolism of Puck Fair, being a Festival that many believe to be Pagan in origin and which celebrates the goat as a symbol of fertility, is fantastically written by McMahon and driven with skill by director Caroline Lynch. The passion to return to the Honey Spike at which to birth her child consumes Breda, as does her Catholic fears such as losing her ‘blessed cord’.

Emmet Byrne and Emma O'Grady. Image (c) Mephisto Theatre Company

The mixing of Catholic and Pagan symbolism reminds much of Vincent Woods 1992 play “At the Black Pig’s Dyke” which was produced by Druid Theatre Company. The story tells of families in the Border counties of Leitrim and Fermanagh where local feuds are passed down through generations. This is evoked through using the local traditional customs of the’ mummers’, characters, who since Pagan times, celebrated life, death, growth and harvest.

The oral tradition of storytelling that surrounds the Irish Travelling people is never far from MacMahon’s mind. A volume of his own autobiography is called “the Storyman”, named after a child in the street who stopped him and asked was he the “Storyman”. Characters like Dicky Bird, excellently portrayed by Sèamus O’Donnell, represent the wandering bards synonymous with the story-telling tradition of MacMahon’s North Kerry as much as with the Travelling community.

The play is also so much an exploration of language. Turns of phrase local to those from the Kerry or Munster region differ from those we encounter from the character of Meg McCuteheon from the North of Ireland. These phrases are in turn different again from those purely native to the Travelling community. Dicky Bird, the Traveller, recounts prayers in the traditional Traveller Gammon dialect, which is joined in chorus by those other Travellers around him.

The closing scenes offer a reflection of supreme pathos. As Dicky Bird has confounded all who he encounters with his riddles and rhymes, so too is the confounding riddle of life and death played out at the Honey Spike – the end of a journey. Perhaps most fittings of all to sum up this is a riddle by Bird himself. It is introduced as being written on the gravestone of a poet in the north-west, Yeats himself: “Cast a cold eye on life, on death. Horsemen, Pass by”.

Mephisto Theatre Company have produced a real classic here and in doing have staged an impeccable production. Emmet Byrne and Emma O’Grady (Star of earlier Mephisto production of Grenades) are outstanding as the young Traveller couple who must overcome religion, feuds, prejudice and often their own fears and customs so that their child might live. O’Grady relishes the rich character and language of Breda afforded to her character by MacMahon. Daniel Guinnane also gives a great turn as the drunken Mickle Sherlock. Mephisto are quickly establishing themselves as a company of considerable ability and imagination. It is a truly moving and powerful production, full of lyrical beauty, stories, humour and grief and is not to be missed.

The Honey Spike is at the Town Hall Theatre, Galway, 9 – 13 August 2011.

www.mephistotheatre.org

www.tht.ie

 

 
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Posted by on August 12, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Review: Kevin Barry’s Debut Novel, ‘City of Bohane’.

City of Bohane

For those of you read “There Are Little Kingdoms”, the wonderful and Rooney Prize winning collection of short stories by Kevin Barry, his debut novel was perhaps the most eagerly awaited publication by any Irish writer for quite some time. Published in March of this year, the novel was launched to a sell out crowd at the Druid Theatre, Galway as part of the city’s renowned Cùirt International Festival of Literature. On that occasion, Barry himself was on hand to give a resounding reading of his latest creation, the City of Bohane and its many inhabitants.

Bohane is the throbbing epicentre of Big Nothin’. Its inhabitants are tribal, vicious, and territorial with a feral and possessive quality. The map accompanying the book to this area could be a province of Tolkien’s Middle Earth as much as this alternate western Irish seaboard of 2054. The river flows into the heart of Bohane and brings with it the smell and air the city folk breath as they go about their daily business of drinking, whoring, smoking, fighting and gambling. “Whatever is wrong with us is coming in off that river. No argument: the taint of badness on the city’s air is a taint off that river.” The city is kept in line, just back from the edge of total deprivation by Logan Hartnett and his gang The Fancy. With his heavy muscle, the exquisitely named Fucker Burke and Wolfie Stanners, things tick along as only they can in Bohane.

To read the rest of my review, which is published on Writing.ie, please click here and go to www.writiting.ie for more.

 
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Posted by on July 25, 2011 in Books

 

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Emma Donoghue at Galway Arts Festival

When Emma Donoghue arrived onto the stage of the Meyrick Hotel to rapturous applause it was evident how comfortable and at home she was to be in the company of such an adoring audience. The unprecedented success of her latest novel, Room, secured her the Hughes & Hughes novel of the Year Award; won the 2011 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize regional prize (Caribbean and Canada); Won the Rogers Writers Fiction Award (2010) and was long-listed for the Man-Booker Prize as well as being nominated for the Orange Prize for Fiction. It is no wonder Donoghue is so accustomed to greeting large adoring crowds.

Donoghue gave the crowd a generous, insightful and honest account of the creation of Room, of the development of the characters Ma and Jack and also into her own career as a writer coupled with her life as a mother of two children. Of course one of the first points discussed was the influence of the Fritzel case on the novel. Donoghue did admit it of course did stir her to create Room  but wished it to be yet separate from the Fritzel story and from the added attention which it would also afford the evil perpetrator of confinement in that real-life case. Felix Fritzel, who is a real-life Jack, was born into captivity. In his walled prison he knew nothing of life or a world beyond his mother, siblings and his captor. Felix was five when he was freed. Jack is five at the start of his story. Donoghue noticed how in a media interview Felix said plainly “the world is nice”, – how a child, obviously scared and bewildered in his new-found freedom had any concept of the “world being nice” provoked thought to what is behind this statement.

Emma Donghue at Galway Arts Festival

Donoghue consciously made Jack to be a five-year old: old enough to communicate his story but still, quoting William Blake, full of ‘innocence and expereince’. She made Jack male also to keep the male-female balance even, creating a insight and perspective of all aspects of the story, even citing the likes of Adam and Eve and Mary and Joseph as examples of such a balance in the stories of the history of mankind.

It was interesting to hear the influence of Donoghue’s own life as a mother and watching the mannerisms, phrases and actions of her young children, thinking about the comforting and innocent lies all parents tell their children, to answer their inquisitiveness and put their mind at ease while also protecting them, as Ma tries so hard to do for Jack. Also, Donoghue examined the point where the ‘Room’ of the novel, the horrific prison space, which was a nightmare scenario for any adult who has life experience was paradoxically a near ‘idyll’ situation for Jack, who was born into this blind world and the intimacy it afforded him with his mother and the security she strove above all else to provide for him. It was a very touching point.

When questioned about the escape scene where Jack flees into which for him is the complete unknown, Donoghue wanted to explore how Jack would see, react and interact with a foreign world and also how Ma would realign herself with her child into a world  and society that she left some number of years ago. What would be totally banal to us would be wonderous to Jack. The dilemma for Ma is whether to stay obedient to her captor, keeping jack ‘safe’ in the Room but also unaware of life outside or else risk his life so that he may actually escape and have a fulfilled life experience.

Room

Donoghue discussed Room not being an overly descriptive or visual book, the space and characters are brought to life through dialogue and conversation, which is the basest form of human experience and which allows one to share and learn simultaneously. interestingly Beckett’s Waiting for Godot is mentioned as a reference as there also, the action is overshadowed by the conversation, the sharing of stories. Like Ma and Jack in Room, at least there were two of them.

For all those who quizzed Donoghue about the possibility of a sequel to Room, that would show how Ma and Jack have adapted to life in modern society, they were met with a considered ‘No’. It is obvious Donoghue has given this considerable thought. She outlined however she thought mother and son had both been through enough and now their lives were as normal and boring as anyone else’s and just wouldn’t make a good book! A consolation prize of a possible film version of Room is a much more definite agenda. She has written a screenplay which at this news arose audible yelps of joy from the audience, but Donoghue teasingly said it won’t hit screens for a few years yet, she wants to safeguard the story and protect it from becoming something it was never meant to be. That level of dedication to her story and characters and near maternal instinct over this book means perhaps Donoghue isn’t so different from Ma after all.

For my review of Room click here http://tiny.cc/pk7dc

 
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Posted by on July 21, 2011 in Books, Culture

 

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Willy Vlautin & Roddy Doyle kick off GAF’s literary side

The Meyrick Hotel overlooking Eyre Square in the heart of Galway City played host to an evening with acclaimed writers Roddy Doyle and Willy Vlautin. In front of a crowd of some two hundred people both writers took to the stage and chatted interestedly to each other while waiting for proceedings to get underway. It was this genuine bon-homie between Doyle and Vlautin that made this such an enjoyable evening.

Vlautin was first to read, choosing to take a piece from his latest and award-winning (the 2010 Ken Kesey Award for Fiction) Lean on Pete. Published by Faber, the book was received to widespread critical acclaim and looking at the crowd tuned intently to Vlautin’s stories told in his endearing North Western US accent. Vlautin outlined how he developed his love of writing and thanked the influence of his English- teacher grandmother. Describing himself as a horrible student, Vlautin’s grandmother used to read him The Count of Monte Christo and presented him with his own copy of Roddy Doyle’s The Commitments, which set him on course to be a dedicated follower of Doyle’s work. In fact, Vlautin genuinely did seem star-struck to be sharing the stage with one of his literary idols.

Vlautin and Doyle. Pic by Sinead McKee

As Vlautin introduced the character and narrator of his book Lean on Pete, the 15-year old Charlie Thompson, Vlautin explained how he did connect with Charlie as someone who took to the road to travel on the American highways and experience life as he would find it and as it came to him. Lamenting never having a pick-up truck or anything as ‘typically’ suitable to such driving, Vlautin never the less took the road in his ’82 Honda Civic and didn’t look back.

In his book, Charlie is a left to fend for himself by his wayward single-father and takes to the road in search of life, acceptance and also a sense of family normality. He ends up tracing the dirt-tracks of Portland, Oregan and gets work at the local racetrack. Here Charlie tends to a less than thoroughbred horse of the title name of the book. The story is rightly noted as being one of the reads of the year and sets out Vlautin as an author as credible and talented as he is a musician. His band Richmond Fontaine have released their tenth album and they played a sell-out concert at the Roisin Dubh last night, also as part of the Galway Arts Festival.

Roddy Doyle was introduced to rapturous applause. No stranger to reading at Galway’s Festivals, Doyle read at the 2010 Cùirt international Festival of Literature in Galway. Noticeably pleased to be on the bill at this year’s Arts Festival, he explained how we wanted to take a break from touring this year following the extensive promotion of his novel last year The Dead Republic, but simply could not turn down Paul Fahy’s offer to attend the Festival on the bill with Willy Vlautin. With tongue firmly in cheek he declared to the crowd he was delighted to be back in Ireland’s second best city! Doyle read a short story from his recently published collection, Bullfighting. The story, Animals, is a charming, funny and touching story of family life that can resonate with people from any background or place within the family. Mother, father, son or daughter, it matters not your age as all have those cherished, funny or even heartbreaking moments with those additions to the household: the family pet.

In the following Q & A with the audience both writers spoke candidly and indeed gave more time than you would expect to make sure everyone who wanted one got their books autographed and a few words of good wishes to boot. When asked about his writing style Doyle thoughtfully admitted he didn’t have strict guidelines he stuck to when it came to his novels or his short fiction. Simply stating he stayed at his desk in his converted attic “for as long was needed or until it is done, whichever came first”. He did however say he was much fussier at the drafting phase at least, with his short fiction, often writing a paragraph at one sitting, leaving it be and returning to it later. With his novels he would write feverously with the most work coming down the line at the editing phase.

The final question of the evening was put to both writers but fielded by Doyle. It asked where is the place of literature and writing for teenagers in teaching in Modern Ireland, which is faced with ever-growing technology, social networks and computer games. Doyle, himself a former teacher, suggested not to worry so much and outlined he has a lot of faith in today’s youth. He sees them reading a lot more than they used to. Their reading may not be big novels read from cover to cover or newspapers from front to back page, but today’s youth are extremely clued into the world and should be trusted. At his writing club for young people in Dublin, Doyle sees so many teenagers coming in and sitting and simply reading and writing for hours at end. Whilst perhaps less the norm it is still proof the desire for great stories is alive and well in today’s younger generations.

It was a fitting end to what was a truly great evening. As the crowd wandered from the Meyrick, Doyle could be spotted relaxing and chatting with a pint. It was off to the Rosin Dubh for Vlautin and a concert with his band Richmond Fontaine. It just shows there are few spare moments to be had at the Galway Arts Festival. I have enjoyed catching up with his music as much as I have with his writing and here is one of many great tracks by the four-piece alt-rock/country band based out of Portland, Oregan. Enjoy!

 
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Posted by on July 20, 2011 in Culture

 

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The Magic of Misterman

Misterman

Seen through the eyes of loner Thomas Magill, the imagined town of Inisfree is a heinous sin-ridden place where he is moral judge and eternal juror of his neighbours. The Black-Box Theatre becomes the broken-down remnant of the town of Inisfree and also of Thomas Magill’s mind and soul. The play is a frantic and sinister retelling of Magill’s life where all who he interacts with or has some sort of relationship with is retold and relived on loop through the recordings he has made with them. 

The play opens with a farcical scene where Murphy is driven to distraction by an incessant Doris Day song. For Thomas, this is an early indication that what he is not able to control and correct outs the darker recesses of his personality.

Thomas, in his purgatorial world, repeats verbatim the recorded conversations with his beloved mother and relives the encounters with those sinners he meets on his daily walk around Inisfree. He half-runs, half-stumbles his way from tape player to tape player where each plays a conversation from the past. These aural memories become all the more visible through Cillian Murphy truly astounding performance. In such a gruelling one-man performance Murphy is simply outstanding, skipping seamlessly through a host of characters, accents and personalities, none more visceral and provocative than Thomas Magill himself.

Thomas keeps a diary of sins of those he meets – a list that includes profanity, gluttony, debauchery and uncleanliness. As Magill considers himself as being next to godliness, he is also canonised as being saintly by his neighbours and simultaneously mocked and jeered for his devotion to his God and also to his mother. I would consider Magill one of the most sinister characters I have encountered on any stage. Enda Walsh has created a man who has visions of his own deism in the face of the spiritual and moral ineptitude on his compatriots. He is, as Thomas himself says, the only kitten in a town full of dogs, or indeed also a vision of Ireland, a broken nation sinking into the sea that supports it, a-la the image on Thomas’ father’s grave.

But what exactly is it about Thomas that startles so much. Are we afraid of his temper, his subdued anger and violence that simmers and bursts through to the surface? Are we afraid of his devotion to his religion? Or perhaps is it his religion itself we are afraid of? A combination of all these questions are gelled by Enda Walsh into this enigmatic character, a self-declared avenging angel that is so forcefully portrayed by Murphy.

Thomas is a powerless individual who strives to attain what it is exactly he cannot get: power, respect and recognition for his efforts to save those around him from drowning in their own sin. He is constantly told what to do and where to go, be it by his mother, by those around him and also crucially as he is ordered to do by the catechism he preaches and by the God he worships. Thomas is an unsettling individual: to those neighbours around him he is easily forgettable, little more than a passing nod or a wave in the morning. He is anonymous. He is nameless. He is Misterman.

The soundtrack is sublimely designed and expertly staged by Gregory Clarke and Donnacha Dennehy. The dialogue that eerily is only one-way: between Thomas and a tape-recorded voice, echoes around the industrial wasteland that is Magill’s own mind. The set design by Jamie Varton uses every available inch of the expansive Black-Box and is ably filled by Murphy.

With Enda Walsh himself directing the play seldom dips below a virtuoso piece of enthralling theatre, all leading to a striking and startling final scene. As powerful a scene so portrayed by Murphy you will not readily see on stage too often. It is a fitting tribute to the collaboration between Walsh and Murphy, whose personal touches and input into the play and its development from its earlier 1999 incarnation (then produced by Corcadorca Theatre Company in Cork) makes this a truly unique and special experience. If you want to see a summer blockbuster this year, then it has to be Misterman. It runs for the rest of the coming week (18 – 24 Jul) but is long sold out. Any return tickets are now recognised as legal currency, trading as gold-dust in Galway at the moment. If you have tickets, hold on to them tightly!

www.galwayartsfestival.com

http://www.landmarkproductions.ie/

 
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Posted by on July 18, 2011 in Theatre

 

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